Talking Movies

Talking Movies
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Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Duff review: Seen-before teenage story of love that's still fun and charming

Labels stick. Labels suck. Labels crush. Jock, Geek, Rocker, Mean Girl. These are all passé. Here’s another: Designated Ugly, Fat Friend (DUFF). This, of course, is bestowed with typical teenage casual cruelty in the American high school. So, let’s play along with the mothers and grandmothers of teen clichés in The Duff, based on a novel by Kody Keplinger. It’s a seen-before-tale of teenage love — warts, pimples and all — but it turns out to be quite a fun sport.
Hot chicks in high school are either over-sweet (read: dumb) or shameless leggy, blonde bitches. The ugly and fat ones are smart and funny, but invisible. They were given polite terms like plain Janes in pre social networking era. Now, they are called ugly and fat outright, and are the butt of YouTube video pranks.
The same applies to the boys. The dumb studs with six packs fail their Chemistry papers, but are great at flirting in the labs. The cute, curly haired charmers play the guitar rock stars who break hearts with the flick of a guitar string.
A fairy godmother cannot help if you happen to be the best looking girls’ best friend in this unforgiving world of cyber bullies. You simply earn the label ‘DUFF”- the designated ugly fat friend.
So, whose cause will you champion? These are the teams:
The Duff: Bianca (Mae Whitman).
Her Hot Best Friends: Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca Santos).
The Blonde Bitch: Madison (Bella Thorne).
The Dumb Stud: Wesley (Robbie Amell).
The Cute Rock Star: Toby Tucker (Nick Eversman).
The last name is quite aptly reminiscent of another teenage flick, John Tucker Must Die. Our DUFF, Bianca, is a horror film geek and has a massive crush on Tucker. She treats her next-door stud and Tom Cruise lookalike neighbour, Wesley, with the contempt of a lab student towards a cockroach. He points out (in the most friendly manner possible) that she is no less than invisible to those leching at her best friends, Jess and Casey. Bianca reacts by promptly “unfriending” the two on Facebook and every other social networking site: the ultimate insult in today’s world. The two pretties remain kind and forgiving. No drama there.
Then Bianca strikes a deal with Wesley. He can teach her a thing or two about shopping for the right pushup bra while she can share her Chemistry notes. The idea is to get her to gather courage to approach the cute guitarist, Tucker.
Meanwhile, the blonde bitch, Madison, has set her long lashed eyes on Wesley. His closeness to Bianca sets her plotting and scheming and makes her the queen witch of cyber bullydom. The conflict stage is set.
It’s a classic good friend and mean guy triangle. You get the drill. Yet, The Duff charms and disarms you with quick, snappy lines and adorable performances from one and all. A couple of friendly teachers (Korean and Black, for the diversity campaign) and a single mom (Allison Janney) on the dating prowl add a dash of contemporary humour.
You wish that the characters of Madison, Jess and Casey were fleshed out more than their cardboard looks. Their insecurities beneath their skin-deep beauty and the complications that follow in friendships had the makings of a great subplot left undefined. A deeper exploration of cyber bullying might have lent some real meaning to current high school scenarios.
Whitman sparkles and shines with her comic delivery. Her camaraderie with the very likeable Amell is enough to brighten a predictable script. The spirited students win The Duff an A, despite its lazy and easy treatment. So what if there is no one really fat or ugly here and we just have one more label?

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